Many of us fall into bad habits when driving, especially if you’ve been driving for years. These bad habits may be putting you or other road users at risk – but are you even aware of what they could be?
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There are many commonly-held driving beliefs that are based on popular wisdom rather than fact.
We've taken a look at a few widely accepted driving habits to give some clear cut advice on whether they're right or wrong.
Read on to find out if you're falling foul of any of these and can help improve your driving by changing a few age-old habits.
1. Brimming your tank with fuel
99% of people do this, but it's not the best way to fill up.
You should fill your car until the nozzle clicks and avoid ‘topping up’ beyond that point.
Doing so leaves no room for fuel vapour to expand inside the tank, and can damage your car’s vapour collection system.
This consists of a charcoal filter that could be flooded – and damaged – by excess fuel.
Replacement isn’t cheap, and inefficient fuel vapour collection is also bad news for the environment.
2. Driving with your hands at ‘ten and two’
Driving with your hands in the ‘ten and two’ positions (if you picture the steering wheel as a clock face) is not the current advice of driving schools – nor has it been for many years.
Keeping your hands at ‘nine and three’ is generally considered more comfortable and better for driving.
And, with the vast majority of modern cars having power steering, the extra leverage gained by placing your hands high on the wheel is no longer necessary.
There’s also an argument that the ‘ten and two’ position could put your arms in the path of the inflating airbag if an accident occurs, but this hasn't been proven in any study of real significance.
3. Paying extra for premium petrol
Most petrol stations offer a choice between normal 95 RON (95 octane) petrol and 98 RON super unleaded. Some also sell high-performance ‘premium’ diesel.
These typically cost around 10p extra per litre – around £4.00-£6.00 more per tank – but are only worth having if you drive a high-performance car.
Check the handbook or the inside of the filler flap to see what type of fuel is recommended (it may say ‘unleaded 95’, for example).
Modern cars have engine management systems that can adapt to different grades of fuel, but you’re wasting money putting super unleaded in a supermini.
4. Slamming on the brakes if you have a tyre blowout
This is an easy mistake to make as in most emergency situations, it’s advisable to brake as hard as you can.
This will more often than not, help you avoid a potential hazard while the anti-lock braking (ABS) will prevent skidding, so the car can come safely to a stop.
This isn’t the case, however, if you have a sudden tyre blowout.
In this scenario, slamming on the anchors will further destabilise the car, potentially causing it to fishtail or spin.
Instead, keep your foot on the accelerator (counterintuitive as that may feel) and slowly ease off the gas to bring the car to a steady, controlled halt.
5. Rolling up your windows to save fuel
When it's unbearably hot outside (a rare occurrence in the UK) many people will rely on rolling down their windows instead of using the aircon, in an effort to conserve fuel.
Many of those same people then roll their windows back up again when they reach any speed above 30 mph and resume using their aircon.
If it's hot, both switching on the air conditioning or rolling down your windows (because of additional drag) will significantly affect your car’s fuel economy.
But we're here to tell you that rolling down your windows will do so to a lesser extent – even at motorway speeds.
That’s the conclusion of a study by General Motors and engineering standards organisation SAE, which compared fuel use in a saloon and SUV at speeds of 31mph, 50mph and 68mph.
In both cars at all speeds, having the windows open was more efficient.
However, it’s worth remembering that aircon will stop working if not used regularly, resulting in a potentially expensive repair, so it is a good idea to run it fairly regularly.
6. Changing your engine oil every year
There are no hard and fast rules here, but improvements in engine and oil technology mean service intervals for cars have become far less frequent.
The most stressed, high-performance engines could need fresh oil as frequently, or in some cases even more so, than every 5,000 miles – but some modern cars can cover several times that distance.
Much depends on your car and how you drive it; motorway miles are much easier on an engine than stop-start city traffic.
The best advice, therefore, is to refer to your handbook and follow the manufacturer’s recommendations.
7. Waiting for your car to 'warm up' before driving
This is another case of fact becoming myth as car technology has improved.
Modern fuel injection and engine management systems regulate the warm-up process to improve efficiency and reduce wear.
So, all you’re really doing by allowing your engine to idle is wasting time and fuel.
8. Using your phone if the car is stationary
This largely depends on whether you have the engine switched on. If so, you are breaking the law and risking six penalty points plus a £200 fine, under new laws.
That said, you can’t text or make hand-held calls in traffic, even if your car’s stop-start system has cut the engine.
The only ways to legally use a mobile phone inside the car are: a) via a hands-free kit or b) while parked with the engine off.
9. Believing there is a 'minimum speed limit' on motorways
Some people believe the minimum speed limit on motorways is 40mph, when actually there is no minimum speed limit, legally speaking.
While we would never advise driving disproportionately slower to the traffic around you on a motorway, it is worth noting some smart motorways, such as the M25, may even reduce speed limits to just 20mph in the event of an accident or to ease severe congestion.
In normal conditions, however, driving too slowly may be as dangerous as driving too fast.
And, if caught driving too slowly on a motorway, unnecessarily, you risk being pulled over for driving without due consideration, which is where the myth of an imposed minimum speed limit probably came from.
10. Shunning winter tyres
Winter tyres are a legal requirement in some European countries during the colder months, but they remain very much a niche product in the UK.
Contrary to popular belief, though, winter tyres are not just for use on snow and ice.
They’re actually more effective – and thus safer – in all road conditions when temperatures drop below 7deg C.
The secret is a softer rubber compound, along with tread covered in tiny, water-dispersing channels called sipes.
If you can afford the initial outlay for a set of winter tyres, they’re a worthwhile investment on safety and performance alone.
Plus the increased life span of both sets of tyres being used for half the year each, will almost balance out the initial costs - just make sure you have somewhere to store them when you're not using them.
Read more in our should I buy winter tyres? Guide.
11. Avoiding buying a rear-wheel-drive car on the basis that they are 'more dangerous'
This arguably used to be the case, when the less predictable nature of rear-drive handling wasn’t reined in by electronic safety systems.
In extremis, a rear-wheel-drive car can skid sideways (oversteer), as opposed to most front-driven cars, which tend to run wide (understeer).
Understeer is easier to manage, particularly for inexperienced drivers, so many consider front-wheel-drive cars inherently safer.
However, modern stability control intervenes rapidly to prevent oversteer, meaning neither drive type is more dangerous in normal conditions.
Are you guilty of any of the above? Bad habits are tough to kick, but when it comes to car safety and car maintenance it’s important to be aware of what you might be doing wrong.